Rights groups put up symbolic memorial for victims of extrajudicial killings, renew calls for justice

Human rights groups Hustisya and Rise Up for Life and for Rights, along with several other advocacy groups and families of victims of extrajudicial killings, held a gathering for justice on Sunday, December 1, 2019 at the Ecumenical Center of the National Council of Churches of the Philippines in Quezon City. The gathering is among the opening activities for the December 10 International Human Rights Day coordinated protests. A symbolic memorial was set up at the gathering venue where flowers adorned with calls were offered by the families. 
“Nothing can erase the names of those killed and slaughtered by State forces under the Duterte regime's flagship drug war campaign and counterinsurgency program, not even grandiosity laced with corruption. We remember the victims of human rights violations under this government and, with the families of those killed, reiterate our commitment to pursue justice and accountability," said Evan Hernandez, Hustisya chairperson. 

Since Rodrigo Duterte assumed the Presidency in 2016, thousands of lives, mostly of Filipinos living in urban poor communities, were claimed by the regime’s bloody war on drugs, which human rights groups assail as “fake” due to the continuing proliferation of the illegal drug trade in the country, the involvement of authorities in drugs, and the lack of serious targeting of drug lords and syndicates. 

Meanwhile, amid the administration’s counter-insurgency programs, the Negros, Eastern Visayas, and Bicol regions were turned into a bloodbath with hundreds of civilians, mostly human rights activists, killed since Duterte declared a deadline to end local-armed conflicts. As of November 2019, Karapatan has documented 293 cases of extrajudicial killings in line with the counterinsurgency program. 

Hernandez said that "we are determined to see through initiatives that will hound the militarists who have engineered and implemented these brutal policies. There are efforts in both national and international platforms to investigate the Duterte administration and bring them to account for turning the entire government into a militarist killing machine. We fully support this, and we are actively involved in contributing to efforts for justice and accountability."

The rights group official emphasized that the gathering will kick off the series of activities that will culminate on December 10, the International Human Rights Day. 

"We think it is apt to start the commemoration of International Human Rights day with a reminder of how the rights situation in the country has worsened. Gross impunity persists as butchers are protected and rewarded. This activity, this memorial is a symbol of our commitment to keep the fire and passion aflame; it is a statement addressed to this government that as we grieve for our loved ones, we will continue to fight to bring them justice," said Hernandez. 

On a final note, Hernandez also added that the human rights situation in the country proves that the Duterte government has "abandoned and neglected its responsibility as the duty-bearer of rights. Instead of working to promote and realize human rights in the country, the government remains as the top human rights violator in the country. It is now up to the people to challenge, condemn, resist, and maximize all platforms to end attacks against the Filipino people and bring perpetrators to account for their crimes."